NAMES are rapidly being added to a petition aimed at stopping the closure of Mornington Centrelink and Medicare offices.
By last Friday (14 February) the petition had in less than a week attracted 970 signatures and 291 “shares” on social media.
The petition followed the federal government’s shock decision to close the Main Street offices on 27 March (“Centrelink shutdown” The News 11/2/20). Clients would be expected to access services at either Frankston, Rosebud or Hastings offices from then on.
Mornington Community Information and Support Centre manager Stuart Davis-Meehan organised the petition to be presented to Health Minister and Flinders MP Greg Hunt and NDIS and Government Services Minister Stuart Robert, who made the contentious decision.
“[The closure] will have a significant negative impact on those most vulnerable in our community that often need the face-to-face support provided by the office,” the petition says.
“In particular, this includes those living in poverty, those living with disability, those experiencing mental ill health and the aged.”
Mr Davis-Meehan said: “The added burden for those attending a Centrelink office, of having to travel to Frankston or Rosebud, is of great concern at a time when what is needed is more support – not less.
“This will include added time, money and inconvenience to get the support they need.”
Mr Davis-Meehan estimated 10 per cent of Mornington, Mount Martha and Mount Eliza residents are “living in poverty”.
“The closure will also reduce the ability of local agencies to respond in a timely manner to emergency situations for these clients,” he said.
Mr Davis-Meehan said his centre assisted 15,100 needy clients in 2018-19, with 90 per cent of its emergency relief clients receiving a Centrelink benefit.
“It is an essential service for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the community,” he said. “Having the office just up the road is of great assistance to those requiring face-to-face contact.”
Dunkley Labor MP Peta Murphy said existing customers would have to travel much further to access the services they need.
“This is an example of [the government] failing to consult the community about the closure of a significant service,” she said.
“The federal Liberal government needs to tell vulnerable and elderly residents how they will be able to access help once their service centre is gone.
“Residents in my community are worried that they will be left struggling to access support and services.”
Peninsula-based journalist Debbie Lee said making clients go elsewhere by bus was “ridiculous”.
“To get to Hastings is a three-hour round trip – not including waiting for the bus at either end – via Frankston; Rosebud is a little over a two-hour round trip, excluding wait time, and Frankston at best is an hour and a half round trip without wait time for the bus,” she said.
“This is all before the actual wait time to get serviced in any of those sites and Frankston is beyond bad now, so it will be a full day out for some customers.”
Ms Lee said empty shops at Benton’s Square shopping centre would be an “excellent option” for a new Centrelink/Medicare branch.
In a letter to Services Australia Mr Hunt said he was “profoundly disappointed that neither I nor the community were informed or consulted prior to this decision being made”.
He reiterated that the Mornington Community Information and Support Centre could host satellite services “to allow Centrelink and Medicare services to continue to be provided in Mornington”.